Wednesday, 20 August 2008


Around four months ago I believed I had been struck down by Brazil’s typhoid for the 21st century, the infamous dengue virus. Of course it was not dengue, but was instead another, yet unidentified virus, that left me weak and light-headed and aching all over and covered from head to foot in a fetching polka-dot rash. Threading a tricky path through the SUS, Brazil’s creaky national health service, was no great pleasure, but on the other hand did not strike me as being a much sorrier tale than it might have been on the NHS. Public health care, Mr X tells me, is doomed the world over – not enough money, too many people, and the best doctors and administrators tempted away to the private sector. Anyway. My blood was tested, and whether it was my shoddy circulation or a myopic Brazilian nurse I do not know, but something went minorly awry, and a huge purple bruise bloomed the length of my forearm.

It was around this time that The Ex-Girlfriend’s troubles began, and she embarked on her not so little sojourn in Recife. It has been a rocky ride in parts, though not as rocky as I once feared. No spectres have travelled from **** ******* to gun her or I down in the street, no recifense thugs have been hired to do the same. Furthermore the smoke of sexual tension which I believed might burn our eyes and singe our throats has proved to be entirely without source or flame on either side, and for this thanks are due to God and the Baby Jesus, should either happen to exist (I am getting old and it is good to keep one’s bases well covered).

The bruise has faded now, though it stayed with me for months, much longer than I had first expected, and The Ex-Girlfriend has gone too, to a small house she has rented (the first in her short-ish life) near the Santa Cruz football stadium. She has furnished this house with a mattress and table I have given her, and a few other odds and ends (pencils, books, a radio), and absolutely nothing else. But she will be fine, I think, because she is resourceful, and her expectations in terms of material goods are low, and because I will probably continue to help her when I can, and besides there is now The Ex-Girlfriend’s New Boyfriend to help (and though I can hardly at this late stage become mean-spirited about such things, helping seems to me more the job of The New Boyfriend than The Ex-Boyfriend, no?)

All talk of rockiness aside, her time here has been A Good Thing All Round. My mother, a seer in such matters, tells me I have done something good and pure, and in a world that is not always full of such things, it feels good to contribute at least a crumb of worthiness (perhaps my first). And I have gained a lot myself – my daily debating sessions with the living room wall have ceased, for one, and I now have someone else in Recife I can call a friend.

And so there is not much else to say on the subject, other than as is often the case things prayed for, when they come, are not always as wonderful as had been hoped. I say this because towards the end I had spent not an insubstantial amount of time sacrificing chickens and goats and lizards at heathen altars and invoking the gods of afro-Brasileiro religions in order that The Ex-Girlfriend might pack her bag(s) and leave (amongst other things my already comatose love life had been taking a considerable turn for the worse – it is remarkable how effective the words “I live with The Ex-Girlfriend” can be as an antidote against the stirring passions of Brazilian women). Needless to say, my beseechings to all things holy and unholy had gone answered.

But last night I went to the bakery and although she is gone I bought bread for both of us, and when I looked this morning I wondered would there be enough for two breakfasts, before I remembered, and felt a minor tug at my heart, and standing in the kitchen small loneliness and time and silence stretched out quietly before me – not greatly, but like a subtle noise in the night loud enough to hear but not to remember.

No such worries for Mr X, however, who has announced that, tired of a lack of adventures in his life, he will make as many foolish and unsensible decisions as possible in order to create a worthy narrative of which he can then write. He seems to have taken Hemingway as his model, and is drinking and smoking heavily, and this Thursday will travel 14 hours by bus to Salvador to meet a girl of truly dazzling beauty he has met on the internet. Whether this girl remotely resembles the photos Mr X has seen, or whether she is even a girl at all (she of course may be a he – a hairy knuckled Bahian sexual predator, or worse, or better, a gang of passport thieves, knives between their teeth, lurking in wait for Mr X at the bus station) remains to be seen. Mr X doesn’t care, he tells me, for he is a writer, and writers should live life to the stupidest full, shouldn’t they?

And in any case even if the journey turns out to be full of white-knuckled peril, it may be safer than what Mr X would otherwise do if he stayed in Recife, which would be to go to the Santa Cruz game. For after a run of truly miserable results Santa are one defeat away from elimination from Serie C, the Brazilian third division, and elimination would mean that next year Santa would play in the fourth division, which doesn’t even exist at the moment but seems to have been created solely to allow for yet greater suffering for tricolores across Recife. In such event it is unlikely a stone of Arruda, Santa’s stadium, will be left unleavened by the team's enraged supporters and it will be even greater shame to the Inferno Coral if so much as one city bus is left untorched. Hemingway or not, all of these are things Mr X would prefer to watch on the news on Monday, rather than witness in person.

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